Florida fires closing highways

VOLUSIA COUNTY, FLORIDA — A large wildfire in Volusia County is putting up a lot of smoke, according to the Florida Highway Patrol, which cautioned drivers to exercise caution. A fire in the Tiger Bay State Forest, according to ClickOrlando.com news, is burning along Interstate 4 north of State Road 44 near DeLand. The Florida Forest Service said the fire had burned about 70 acres and was 60 percent contained.

A Florida Department of Transportation highway camera earlier today showed thick dark smoke from the fire, not far from I-4. State troopers issued a travel advisory because of the smoke for motorists in the area both for I-4 and for International Speedway Boulevard.

A 400-acre fire in Marion County, according to WCJB news, also closed roads. Florida Forest Service firefighters were dispatched to an escaped blaze near Gooski Prairie on Friday afternoon. Sheriff’s deputies said parts of County Road 316, from Northeast 175th Street to Fort McCoy, have been re-opened after a closure resulting from the fire and smoke.

Florida Forest Service officials said the fire was at 75 percent containment by 3:30 p.m. By 7 p.m., though, the winds had picked up and carried the fire from 200 acres to twice that size.

The fire started as a controlled burn ignited by a private landowner on Thursday afternoon.

WINK News reported yesterday that firefighters were working on several brush fires across southwest Florida pushed by high winds, including one in Collier County that the Florida Forest Service reported at 300 acres with about 25 percent containment. The Collier County Sheriff’s Office ordered evacuations, but they were soon lifted. The Greater Naples Fire Chief said three homes were burned and more were threatened.

ClickOrlando.com reported that temperatures are expected to climb into the upper 80s over the weekend before cooling down as a weak cold front moves closer to the region, but chances of rain are estimated at just 20 percent.

Long bushfire season wears down firefighters in Queensland and Western Australia

State fire officials are airing concerns about firefighter fatigue as southwest Queensland heads into an “unprecedented” prolonged fire season this autumn, and South West Rural Fire Service superintendent Wayne Waltisbuhl told ABC News that he could not remember the last time a fire season continued into March.

“It’s usually finished by late January, early February,” he said. “It’s just very dry conditions.”

Waltisbuhl said the season could continue for the next six weeks, and the Bureau of Meteorology is predicting higher than median average temperatures for the March-to-May period. “We’ll have some really peak days with high fire danger weather and some lulls.”

In Western Australia, the Department of Fire and Emergency Services (DFES) is disputing claims it doesn’t have the resources to handle the fires burning across the state. The West Australian reported that it took 200 firefighters to control a fire at Neergabby, near the popular tourist destination of Moore River. DFES deputy commissioner operations Craig Waters said that Western Australia is still “well-protected and well-resourced” and can provide a rapid response to such incidents.

Shadow Emergency Services Minister Martin Aldridge said that five trucks had been “mothballed” at city stations while the fires burned, but Waters disputed that. He said the five engines were crewed and available on Saturday and Sunday.

Those fires started the day after the United Professional Firefighters Union (UPFU) warned that the State could face a catastrophe over the weekend, after trucks were stripped and crews benched on Friday because of firefighter exhaustion. “DFES had sufficient resources over the weekend,” explained Waters, “to manage the effects of the industrial action initiated by the UPFU during the high-threat period.”

He said that in the metropolitan area, DFES has 139 vehicles across the career and volunteer brigades, with an additional 130 across local government bushfire brigades. He said that based on risk, together with the need to manage fatigue and staff rostering, DFES had decommissioned five firefighting vehicles in the metro area — for Friday only.

Waters said the state thus far had experienced only a moderate fire season, but he warned people not to be complacent. “There is still a long way to go, and Western Australia is incredibly hot and dry in summer, and the smallest flame can spark a devastating bushfire. Bushfires are burning for longer, and more intensely than we’ve seen in previous decades. Our firefighters do a tremendous job during bushfire season but we need people to take responsibility.”

Residents ordered to evacuate bushfires

Bushfires are burning out of control northeast of Melbourne, the coastal capital of the Australian state of Victoria, and 9News reported that some residents have been told to leave immediately. Meanwhile, people in Maintongoon also have been issued a “leave immediately” warning. Updates will be posted at the VicEmergency website.

Melbourne fires map
Map of Victoria bushfires

The Rural Fire Service (RFS) in New South Wales says some of the active bushfires are too dangerous to control, and that they may have been deliberately lit. The RFS has an interactive map online.

RFS map
RFS map of New South Wales incidents

A firefighting aircraft has been called up to fight two large and out-of-control bushfires believed to have been deliberately lit near Moonie in Queensland’s Western Downs, according to ABC.net.au news.

On Tuesday night the RFS was called to two fires in the Waar Waar State Forest and Cattle Creek, and South West Region RFS Superintendent Wayne Waltisbuhl said that fire crews notified police.

“Some of the crew who arrived on scene last night observed some people in the area in a car and they took off very quickly,” he said. “That was suspicious at the time the fires were lit, so that information has been passed to police to follow up.”

Community near Heppner, Oregon first in Morrow County to earn Firewise designation

A bolt of lightning struck a tree just outside Bruce Wilcox’s home in Morrow County, Oregon last year, sending shards of wood flying 40 yards away. “It didn’t start a fire,” he said. “It just hit that tree and went to ground. But we were lucky.” Lightning-ignited fires are common in north-central Oregon, and Wilcox lives about 16 miles south of Heppner — home to the nearest fire department. Wilcox is helping his community, known locally as Blake Ranch, become the county’s first to join Firewise USA. He told Oregon Public Broadcasting that the Firewise program could be the key to protecting nearby homes from the next big wildfire.

FIREWISEFirewise is sponsored by the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA), and the Oregon Department of Forestry (ODF) manages the program at the state level. Through training and local fire prevention projects, Firewise encourages property owners to take proactive measures to prevent fires from destroying their homes and businesses. Many of Oregon’s small and isolated communities have achieved Firewise designation.

Jessica Prakke with ODF said these sparsely populated communities are among the target areas for the state. “We’re definitely trying to reach those smaller communities that are in the wildland/urban interface, because they can be the most susceptible to wildfire.”

In Blake Ranch, Wilcox contacted ODF after he read about a community in northeast Oregon’s Wallowa County that was participating. Since then, ODF has sent foresters to assess Blake Ranch properties for fire readiness, and some residents have taken a wildfire prevention class. Prakke said ODF doesn’t usually initiate the process of turning communities into Firewise sites, because the agency needs community buy-in to make the program work. Wilcox noted that some local residents are a little skeptical — they suspect the program might require them to remove trees they want to keep. But Wilcox thinks they’ll come around.

Morrow County FIREWISE

The Firewise program has an interactive map on the NFPA website with details about designated sites and their locations across the country, and it’s interesting to compare locations with known fire-danger areas. There’s a cluster of sites, for example, north of Paradise in northern California. One of the sites, Falcons Pointe Drive, is near Upper Bidwell Park in Chico. That community’s participation in the Firewise program began in September of 2022.


There are very few sites in Nevada and zero in North Dakota; about half of Colorado’s map is covered with little Firewise icons. While Oregon’s west side is not really known for severe wildfires, that side of the state surely proved the exception over the last few years, and it’s crowded with Firewise sites, while the east side of Oregon, no stranger to major fires, has only a few. Blake Ranch was just added to the list in December, and the numbers grow as people learn about neighborhoods and towns devastated by wildfires.

“The number of conversations I have had since Paradise has skyrocketed,” said Chris Chambers, Forest Division Chief in Ashland, Oregon. Residents and local officials in and around Ashland tend to be a little more fire-savvy than in many areas; they have a history with interface fires. Jefferson Public Radio reported, about a year after wildfire leveled the town of Paradise, that Chambers spoke to a throng of people at a sold-out screening of the documentary Fire In Paradise at a theater in downtown Ashland, just north of the California state line. Although the Camp Fire was more than 200 miles south, Chambers says it alarmed Ashland residents;  it’s a small, woodsy town that, like Paradise, is tucked into forest.

“People have really become concerned,” Chambers said. “I just hope that translates into lasting awareness in the sense that people take responsibility for the condition of their property.”

Hiker owes $300,000 for Arizona wildfire he started

There’s yet another dumb hiker in the news for starting a wildfire to signal rescuers after he got lost. Philip Powers, a resident of Tempe, Arizona, argued in court that the fire he set in 2018 was necessary to save his life. But a federal court found that he was so unprepared that he created his own emergency.

Backpacker Magazine reported that the 37-year-old hiker in the rugged Sycamore Canyon Wilderness northwest of Sedona, in late May 2018, had barely slept and had muscle cramps in his legs. He’d also found a rattlesnake in the sheepherder shack where he’d overnighted. It was 14 miles back to his car, he was out of food and water, and he had no cell signal. Powers later told a USFS law enforcement officer that he feared he was “done.”

2018 Sycamore Fire in Arizona, looking north. USFS photo.
2018 Sycamore Fire in Arizona, looking north. USFS photo.

He’d tried the night before to start a signal fire, but it quickly burned out. He tried again, piling dry foliage around the base of a snag and firing it up with his Bic lighter. He hoped that the dead tree would go up in flames, and someone would see it and come to his rescue. But the fire got away, tripled in size in one day, and quickly grew to 230 acres; the Sycamore Fire took over a week to contain. A federal district court recently convicted him for his actions in 2018, and Powers now owes the feds almost $300,000 in restitution — and a year of probation.

Fronteras Desk reported that Judge Camille Bibles didn’t buy the hiker’s excuses. “Had Powers engaged in adequate preparation in planning and carried adequate water, food and gear, he would not have found himself in his circumstances,” she wrote. “Thus, the court finds that Powers’ necessity defense fails, as he created the conditions necessitating the commission of the fires, and his subsequent rescue.”

Powers faced 3½ years in prison for the seven misdemeanors he was charged with. Judge Bibles sentenced him to seven concurrent one-year probation periods instead. He also owes the Forest Service more than $293,000 in restitution, which he will make in $200 monthly payments.

In addition, the judge ordered Powers to complete a hiking safety course.

According to 12News in Arizona, he’s already filed an appeal of his conviction.

Why Idaho’s Silver Valley is forested again

Ed Pommerening, 1947-2022
by ji*@ev***************.com">Jim Petersen, Editor, The Evergreen Foundation

When Ed Pommerening died last Christmas Eve in Kellogg, Idaho he left a forestry legacy that is unmatched in Idaho history. I grew up in Kellogg and knew Ed mostly by reputation. We last talked by phone in 1996. I was in the middle manuscripts for an Evergreen edition featuring forests and forestry in Idaho and I wanted to include a short story about the miraculous rebirth of forests on the barren hills of my youth.

Ed is the reason Idaho’s Silver Valley between Smelterville and Big Creek is covered with countless thousands of conifers, many of them 50 feet tall. It is a stunning tribute to the dogged determination of a young man who once told me that the Kellogg he saw for the first time in 1972 reminded him of the godawful agent orange devastation he’d seen while serving with the 101st Airborne Rangers in South Vietnam.

That young man was Ed Pommerening. He was coming to Kellogg then to begin work as the Bunker Hill Company’s first forester. “Uncle Bunker” was by far Idaho’s largest industrial employer, the Union Pacific Railroad’s largest customer by tonnage, and the largest power consumer in the entire Washington Water Power system. At one time, Bunker Hill was the largest mining and smelting company in North America. It supplied most the lead we threw at the Germans and Japanese during the Second World War.

I worked my way through college in company stopes a mile beneath the streets of Kellogg. It was dangerous as hell — but great fun. I have no idea what convinced Ed that he could turn the Silver Valley’s barren hills green again — or how he convinced the company to invest in the crazy idea that he could grow countless thousands of seedlings 3,000 feet down in the mine, but in August 1975 company carpenters built Ed’s first 40-foot long underground greenhouse. One of my late father’s plumbing crews ran the water lines.

The scale of Ed’s thinking was breathtaking but the idea was not new. Many miners grew vegetables in pots in pitch black drifts with only the illumination of a single lightbulb. The air temperature was a constant 72 degrees, so all you had to add was some soil, water from a nearby drill line, a little light, and voila! It certainly helped that Ed had earned two forestry degrees from the University of Idaho. His connections would prove invaluable after his first seedlings died soon after they were transplanted on treeless hills by high school kids and civic groups.

The same thing had happened to seedlings my Cub Scout pack planted in Vergobbi Gulch in the 1950s. We never knew why, but soil scientists at the University of Idaho figured out that sulfur dioxide gas released from stacks at the Bunker smelter had polluted the soil. Acid was killing the seedlings. The solution: plant them deeper and add a dash of neutralizing potash for good measure. The beautiful result graces both sides of Interstate 90 between Smelterville and Big Creek:  Ponderosa, Scotch and Austrian pine, Douglas-fir, western larch, western white pine, blue spruce, willow, and poplar.

The homesteader’s apple orchard behind our home on Mission Avenue has given way to a sea of green that turns to gold in the fall. Words seem inadequate.

A very good case can be made for the fact that the Silver Mountain Resort and Ski Area and its legendary gondola are prospering today because of Ed Pommerening’s modesty and quiet determination. Small wonder that his forestry consulting business, Riverview Timber Services, thrived for decades.

The Kellogg where I grew up is long gone: the smelter whistles that announced shift changes, the friends I made underground, Al Laramie at the piano on Friday nights at the old Sunshine Inn, and the vibrancy of Kellogg’s booming economy. We thought Bunker would go on forever. For better or worse, it didn’t. The end came in 1981. Labor strife and unattainable federal air and water quality standards were the main reasons. But Ed’s vision provided the catalyst for Kellogg’s rebirth.

The power of forestry turned the barren hills of my youth green again and my hometown has a future. There is a bronze statue of a miner at the corner of Main and McKinley Avenue in uptown Kellogg. There needs to be one of Ed standing beside him.

~ Jim Petersen, Editor

The Reforestation of Silver Valley is a fascinating story told by Ed Pommerening and others about an industry that took the initiative to solve a major environmental problem in northern Idaho. The video was funded by the Kootenai-Shoshone County Farm Bureau and Idaho Farm Bureau and was produced by Matthew Bane. Watch it [HERE].